Religion tends to remain in the background of British politics, and until recently David Cameron was no exception. There was a time, back in 2008, when Cameron compared his religious faith to 'the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes.' But now things are changing fast. Earlier this month Cameron made the eyebrow-raising and remarkably silly claim that ' Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago. I just want to see more of it.'
This spiritual fervour was confirmed during the Cameron family's visit to the volcanic island of Lanzarote, where the PM combined 'chillaxing' and pondering the deeper questions. In the years to come pilgrims may well take the Easyjet flight to Lanzarote to the £200 a night converted farmstead, fitted with Balinese carpets, where Cameron spent last week lolling in hammocks, cafes and a sunken pool, and preparing his Easter Message to the nation.
Maybe it was the new age trappings of his holiday retreat, or the fact that he was stung by a jellyfish. But between sipping cafe con leches and staring into his wife's limpid eyes, Cameron - or one of his spin doctors - took time off to pen an article in the Church Times, in which he exhorted the nation to ' be more confident about our status as a Christian country' and declared:
Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none - and we should be confident in standing up to defend them. People who, instead, advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.
The reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns - or at least in Lanzarote - appears to have improved, because now Cameron described himself as ' a member of the Church of England, and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance, and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith.'
Yet he also expressed his admiration for the Church of England liturgy, for its architecture, and the 'healing power of its pastoral care' in order to conclude that ' we can draw on these values to infuse politics with a greater sense of evangelism about some of the things we are trying to change.'
Personally I have no problem with the notion that Christianity can promote the 'values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love'. It can. But the secularism that Cameron condemns for its supposed moral 'neutrality' can also produce the same principles.
In any case these values are almost entirely absent amongst the callous millionaire free market fanatics who now preside over the nation. Somehow one suspects that Jesus would not approve of denying health care and even housing to 'illegal immigrants', as the Coalition is now doing. Or that he would applaud a government that has forced nearly a million people to resort to food banks to survive; that forces people to leave their homes or pay an extra 'tax' if they have a spare room; that has forced thousands of disabled people to go out and look for work even if they die in the process.
So please let's not talk about compassion, humility or love here, not from the leader of a government that includes Theresa May, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, or Jeremy Hunt. And let's not imagine that there is anything moral or Christian about praising the Trussell Trust and other volunteers who have responded to the disastrous and damaging 'reforms' inflicted by this government by setting up food banks.
To do that just makes you a hypocrite, or a 'whitened sepulchre' as Jesus once eloquently put it. Today more than 50 prominent writers and public figures published an open letter accusing the Prime Minister of ' ennervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, ' through his definition of Britain as a 'Christian country.'
No doubt. But behind Cameron's evangelical fervor, I can't help but detect the unmistakable aroma of epic political manipulation and cynicism of the worst kind. It's a different kind of cynicism to Blair, who chose not to 'do God' when in office, before reinventing himself afterwards as a jetsetting John the Baptist and roving servant of 'faith' and mammon.
But Cameron's in-office willingness to 'do God' is just as politically self-serving as Blair's reluctance to do so. It follows strong criticism from both the Church of England and the Catholic Church of the social impact of his government's policies, and Nigel Farage's recent insistence that British politics requires a 'more muscular defense of our Judeo-Christian heritage'.
In effect, Cameron is trying to kill two political birds with one stone. By declaring that his government and Jesus are singing from the same hymn sheet, he wants to hold on to 'soft' Tory voters who might be anxious at the clerical criticism of his government's social brutalism. By praising Christianity as an essential component of British identity, he wants to pull in the more hardline Tories tempted by Ukip - on the brink of European elections in which the Conservatives are expected to get a kicking.
Either way, his conversion was almost certainly made, not on the road to Damascus or Lanzarote, but in the Conservative Party central office - and is no more authentic than Cameron's manufactured ' Green' image that preceded his election.
For this is a man who is simply what his party political machine wants him to be at any one time, and who believes whatever is convenient to believe. And given that he seems to have become so fond of the teachings of Jesus Christ lately, he ought to bear in mind the message of Matthew 6: 1-3,
' Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.'Suggest a correction